By Chris Fullerton, Partner, Employment, Arthur Cox

While supporters were preparing for two of the biggest events on the sporting calendar over the weekend, the FA Cup Final and the Epsom Derby, transport arrangements were thrown into disarray as train drivers announced plans to strike.

They were just the latest wave in a series of industrial action to have hit the headlines this year.

In the last two months alone, we’ve seen multiple cases of strike action taken by employees across the UK, from rail workers to junior doctors, staff at some HMRC locations, while government departments across Great Britain will be impacted by a walk out by civil servants tomorrow (Wednesday).

In the vast majority of cases, the reason for embarking on industrial action boils down to workplace disputes over terms and conditions of employment, such as pay and working conditions.

The decision to call a strike or undertake any sort of industrial action should normally only be taken where it is not possible to resolve a dispute by other means as it can be costly and damaging to both sides.

For trade unions, strict requirements must be met before industrial action such as a strike can take place. For example, the dispute must relate to a “trade dispute” between workers and the employer (such as around terms and conditions), there must have been a secret postal ballot with a majority of members supporting the action and detailed notice regarding the action must have been given to the employer at least seven days before it commences.

Employers should check that these have been met and that, in particular, any industrial action ballot has been carried out correctly.

For organisations either facing or undergoing industrial action, there are a number of considerations that should be taken to ensure the matter is resolved satisfactorily for the employer and employees.

Among the first should be whether the situation could be avoided by entering into a programme of dispute resolution.

Engaging with your legal team will assist with this process. Some employers may find it helpful to bring in outside help to resolve a dispute and the Labour Relations Agency can provide assistance in this regard.

The costs of settling the dispute should also be understood at this stage. If they are considered reasonable, a settlement could be the preferred outcome.

Once it appears that industrial action is inevitable, further considerations will be dependent on the relevant sector, the goods or services provided.

For example, will the action impact the delivery of any statutory requirements on the part of the employer, should agency workers be brought in on a temporary basis or what are the implications for ongoing compliance with health and safety legislation?

Employers should also be aware of the impact of industrial action on the employment relationship. Those workers taking part in the industrial action will normally be in breach of their employment contracts and so they would generally not be entitled to pay for the period during which action is taken.

However, workers will normally be protected against being dismissed for taking part in industrial action where it has been organised by a trade union in compliance with the relevant legal requirements.

As those fans that made their way to Wembley or Empson Downs Racecourse will attest, nobody wants the disruption caused by industrial action if it can be avoided. Seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity could be the first step on finding a speedy resolution.